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Dysphagia (swallowing problems)

Eating well is essential for everyone.

Dysphagia is the medical term for swallowing difficulties.  People of all ages can have difficulties with eating, drinking and swallowing.  This can happen at different times in life and for a range of reasons.  These might include:

  • Developmental / learning disabilities
  • Physical disabilities
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Brain injury
  • Stroke
  • Progressive disorders such as dementia or cancer

Some people with dysphagia have problems swallowing certain foods or liquids, while others can't swallow at all. It can also lead to malnutrition, dehydration, chest infections or choking and it may also impact on psychological health.

Other signs of dysphagia include:

  • Coughing or choking when eating or drinking
  • Bringing food back up, sometimes through the nose
  • A feeling that food is stuck in your throat or chest
  • Persistent drooling of saliva

The simplest advice is to slow down, take time to eat and don’t rush food to go elsewhere.

People with learning disabilities are at an increased risk of choking-related incidents. At Mersey Care this issue has been a concern to staff such as speech and language therapists, and we have made significant academic research contributions to its understanding and management.

Mersey Care has invested heavily in providing high quality food for service users and staff and our kitchens are highly rated for hygiene. We also attach great importance to ensuring that healthy eating options are available and promoted. What is perhaps less known is the work done to understand safe eating.

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists say that dysphagia often forms part of other health conditions that a person is being treated for so it can be difficult to determine how often it occurs.  They say that it affects:

  • Between 50-75 per cent of nursing home residents
  • Between 40-78 per cent of stroke survivors, many of whom will remain with dysphagia over time
  • 36 per cent of adults in hospital settings with a learning disability

 Some good advice for vulnerable people:

  • Try to keep quiet when you are eating. Don’t laugh or talk when eating.
  • Eat slowly and chew, put your fork down to help you slow down. Finish one mouthful before putting in more food.
  • Try to keep quiet when you are eating. Avoid talking and laughing with food in your mouth.
  • Stay sat down when you eat. Do not walk around or lie down while eating.
  • Try to be calm and concentrate on eating. Do not fidget or try to doing other things while you eat.
  • Avoid distractions like using a phone!

A good place to start for advice is your family doctor or practice nurse who may consider referring you for further assessment by a dysphagia specialist , usually a Speech and language Therapist.

Useful Resources

The European Swallowing Awareness Day toolkit

A user-friendly selection of leaflets and posters for the public and professionals alike, giving accessible advice on mealtime safety.

Help Stop Choking resources

A great website full of useful Help Stop Choking resources, from videos, advice leaflets and posters to forms, songs and even quizzes!